`Unsafe GM mustard planted secretly in Punjab`

  • | Thursday | 28th September, 2023

BATHINDA: The coalition for a GM-Free India has urged the Supreme Court to pass orders that ensure implementation of the key unanimous recommendations of the SCs Technical Expert Committee (TEC) of five independent experts, including the Government of India-nominated two scientists. The Coalition pointed out that the TEC has recommended a complete ban on Herbicide Tolerant crops in India, given the multiple adverse impacts of such crops in Indias agricultural production systems. GM mustard is undoubtedly an herbicide tolerant crop. Moreover, the SC TEC has also recommended that field trials for commercial release of GM crops for which India is a Centre of Origin or Diversity should not be allowed. Meanwhile, the crop biology document that guided the regulators in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change points to India being a secondary centre of origin for mustard, while other literature clearly shows that India is the Centre of Diversity for the crop. The final arguments in the Supreme Court on the conditional approval given by the government for the environmental release of HT GM mustard expected on September 26. The Coalition pointed out that the unanimous report of 5 independent experts responds to the SC order of May 10, 2012, which asked the TEC whether there should be a ban, partial or otherwise, upon conducting open field tests of GMOs in addition to all its terms of reference.The unscientific statements of the central government in the Supreme Court are spurred by the fact that GM mustard is indeed a HT crop, and that is the reason why the approval letter issued by the Government of India on October 25, 2022 seeks to criminalise farmers for using glufosinate while growing GM mustard hybrid crop. This very condition, which is legally untenable, is the loudest give-away that GM mustard under consideration is an herbicide tolerant crop. This condition is legally untenable because the Insecticides Act 1968 explicitly keeps farmers out of the purview of regulation of the statute (Section 38), while EPA 1986 will not be applicable on them in this case, where environmental release has already been permitted; EPA 1986 does not regulate herbicide usage. It stated that the government has been arguing in court that the regulatory regime is robust and all laid down rules, regulations and guidelines have been followed in appraising this GM mustard. However, this is simply untrue and the coalition has brought out an elaborate report on the numerous constitutional, legal and other violations that have accompanied the appraisal and approval of GM HT mustard. These violations and scientific compromises were essentially to hide the lack of safety of GM mustard.Meanwhile, unlike the widespread consultative processes that governed decision making with regard to Bt Brinjal in 2009-2010, and that respected the constitutional authority of state governments over agriculture and health, the current government is trying to stifle the views, voices and policy positions of state governments. While brinjal is grown on about 6-8 lakh hectares in the country, rapeseed-mustard is grown on about 100 lakh hectares. While there were more tests conducted on Bt brinjal (even though those were not comprehensive or rigorous), GM mustard bypassed such testing too.State governments have not been consulted when the Ministry of Environment approved GM mustard environmental release whereas Jairam Ramesh, the then Environment Minister wrote to various state governments eliciting their views on Bt brinjal, in 2009-10. The current government in fact ignored objection letters written by numerous governments, and violated an undertaking it had given to the Supreme Court in 2017 that it will place on record any decision taken before moving further. In a recent Parliament reply, the Government claimed that there is no need to take any consent from any state government, while it secretly planted GM mustard in 8 locations including at PAU Ludhiana in Rabi 2022. It claims that no NOC is required because environmental release has been approved. On the other hand, state governments have no regulatory lever left in their hands because the seeds act or seeds control order have not kicked in yet. In any case, a state government will not be able to implement its policy position in its own jurisdiction against GM mustard or any other GM crop because GM seeds can be leaked in illegally and end up contaminating the native diversity. The Coalition for a GM-Free India urges the Supreme Court to put a permanent ban on GM HT mustard and its open-air release by any name and protect Indias rich diversity of mustard varieties. It also requests the suo-motu intervention by the court in ensuring that all gene-edited organisms and products thereof are strictly regulated and reverse the Government decision to de-regulate certain kinds of gene editing. The state governments should not be bypassed under any circumstance when it comes to open air releases of GMOs, included gene edited organisms and the policy positions of states should be protected.

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